Ear Acupuncture for Acute Sore Throat: A Randomized Controlled Trial

David A Moss, Paul Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Sore throat is a common cause of pain in outpatient encounters. Battlefield auricular acupuncture (the placing of needles in specific points in the ear) is a modality used to treat acute pain associated with a variety of ailments. The aim of our study was to determine whether auricular acupuncture reduces pain, medication usage, and missed work hours when added to standard therapy in adult patients with acute sore throat.

METHODS: We conducted an unblinded, pragmatic, randomized controlled trial among adult, nonpregnant patients presenting to an Air Force family medicine clinic with pain from acute sore throat. A total of 54 patients were followed for 48 hours after treatment.

RESULTS: Patients receiving auricular acupuncture reported lower pain scores than those who did not at 15 minutes (6.0 [95% confidence interval (CI), 5.4-6.6] vs 2.6 [95% CI, 1.7-3.5]; P < .0001), 6 hours (4.8 [95% CI, 4.0-5.6] vs 2.5 [95% CI, 1.6-3.4]; P = .0005), and 24 hours (4.1 [95% CI, 3.3-4.9] vs 1.3 [95% CI, 1.0-2.8]; P = .0006). They also reported taking fewer cumulative doses of pain medication at 6 hours (1.07 [95% CI, 0.69-1.45] vs 0.39 [95% CI, 0.2-0.58]; P = .003), 24 hours (2.63 [95% CI, 1.95-3.31] vs 1.37 [95% CI, 0.92-1.82]; P = .004), and 48 hours (4.07 [95% CI, 2.9-5.24] vs 2.19 [95% CI, 1.44-2.94]; P = .009). There was no difference in time missed from work between the auricular acupuncture and standard therapy groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Compared with usual treatment, battlefield auricular acupuncture was associated with reduced sore throat pain for 24 hours and decreased use of pain medication for up to 48 hours. There was no apparent effect on hours missed from work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-705
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015


  • Acupuncture, Ear
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic/therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen/therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pharyngitis/therapy


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